Officials propose increase starting next year

Officials propose increase starting next year
By Paul Brinkmann
Press-Gazette Door County bureau

Outdoorsman Chris Fernandez isn’t happy about the possibility of paying higher fees for hunting and fishing next year.

But he’ll do it if he must, and he may even understand why it’s necessary.

“If we want to do it right and manage the herd, it is going to cost some money,” said Fernandez, 33, of Sturgeon Bay.

State officials are hoping the majority of Wisconsinites and legislators see their proposal to raise fees in the same light.

Under the new proposal, an in-state gun deer-hunting license would jump $12 to $32, and a resident’s fishing license would rise $3 to $20.

If not approved, sportsmen will notice a difference, said Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett.

The department’s booklet on the fee proposal states it will be forced to close some service centers and some wildlife education centers and slash stocking of major game fish like musky, walleye and northern pike, among other impacts.

For three years, the state DNR has been cutting staff.

It said it is now missing key personnel in several areas, like 25 to 30 game wardens throughout the state. The department calls the decision to raise fees ”Wisconsin’s conservation crossroads” in a recent brochure that promotes the increases.

In the extreme northeastern part of the state, including Marinette and Oconto counties, six of 11 warden positions have gone unfilled. DNR officials believe the warden cutbacks led to an increase in poaching activities like shining deer.

Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget would raise fees to pay specifically for fish and wildlife programs, generating $20 million in new revenue in the next two years. The proposal focuses on fees for state residents, whereas some nonresident fees rose last year.

Fernandez, a hunter since childhood, said he would rather see nonresidents continue to bear the brunt of increases. But he’s not about to vote against his state Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, if Bies ends up approving the fee increases.

Hassett has been campaigning for the fees in conferences with media and talks to groups. In an interview, Hassett said some legislators are making up stories about the fee increase.

“There are those who say we’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of sportsmen, and that just isn’t true,” Hassett said. “This fund is the most closely watched in the state. Every penny is accounted for, and it will be used for fish and wildlife purposes only.”

Hassett said the department has suffered, because fees were not raised enough in the past, and programs will continue to suffer if the new rates aren’t approved.

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